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This new technology lets you control your phone with more than just your fingertips

Could dragging our knuckles actually be a step forward in the evolution of smartphones?

Being able to pinch and zoom on a piece of glass was a major breakthrough in how we interact with mobile devices.

But multitouch smartphones have been around for 10 years. Shouldn’t we be able to do more than just touch the screen with one or two fingers?

That’s the idea behind Qeexo, a Mountain View, Calif.-based startup.

The company has one technology, called FingerSense, that allows users to do something different when they tap the screen with a knuckle versus a fingertip. It’s already in use on 20 million phones from China’s Huawei and Alibaba, and is coming to the U.S. with Huawei’s Honor 8, announced earlier this month.

In the most simple implementation of its technology, people use their knuckles and draw a letter, “e” to open email or “m” to open a music app. They can also tap their knuckle twice to take a screenshot.

Qeexo is working on an even more advanced set of gestures called TouchTools that let users bring up, say, a virtual measuring tape, whiteboard eraser or magnifying glass by using a two-handed touch gesture. It has an iPad demo app showing all those in action, but is really hoping to get a phone maker, chipmaker or operating system to build the technology into devices so that it can be used across multiple apps.

Qeexo’s TouchTools let users mimic a real-life gesture to bring up a virtual object, in this case a measuring tape.

But TouchTools remains just a demo, for now. In order for it to really take off, Qeexo needs to get some big mobile players behind the approach.

In recent years, phone makers have been looking toward other methods of input beyond touch. Google and Apple both rely heavily on voice; some makers, like Motorola, let you, say, open the camera with a twist of the wrist.

It’s worth noting that Qeexo does what it does all in software, using existing sensors. To tell a knuckle from a finger, for example, it uses the accelerometer to measure the vibrations when contact is made with the screen.

That means that it would be fairly easy for others to adopt Qeexo’s technology — if they can be convinced.

So far it has only landed Huawei, which is a pretty big global phone player. But without deeper support, Qeexo’s technology is just a novelty. Even on some Huawei phones, its tech is just an optional feature, buried fairly deep in the phone’s settings.

Sang Won Lee, Qeexo’s CEO, is hoping that the crowded smartphone market will persuade more big mobile companies to bet on its technology.

“The space is getting incredibly competitive,” Lee said. “Consumers are waiting longer to replace their phones because they're hesitant to buy a new device that is no different from their previous device.”

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